Barr's Irn-Bru - Supporting Scottish Football

Can Master Mourinho Stop Rodgers The Apprentice?

Mourinho/Rodgers

Jose Mourinho has returned to Chelsea and now its seems only one person is currently standing in his way of becoming a Premier League winner again at Stamford Bridge.

That man is present Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers. The forty-one year old is a former protege of Jose’s at Chelsea. Unlike Mourinho’s other famous former underling, Andre Villas-Boas, Rodgers remains on good terms with the ‘Special One’.

In fact when you hear Jose talking about Rodgers you feel he takes pride in how the Liverpool manager has become a successful gaffer and he seems to take a bit of credit in it too.

You can see it in his glowing statement here…

“He was always a very open guy, open to learn, open to give his opinion, very interested in the game. We like him very much, me and my staff, we liked him very much since he started working with us.

“He’s at one of the top clubs in England, one of the top clubs in the world. His ambitions now are to win titles at a big club.”

The respect is of course mutual and Rodgers is always quick to praise his former boss. When other sides complain or moan at Jose’s antics and mind games, Rodgers will defend Mourinho and will also back him up.

Rodgers will always be grateful for the chance Jose Mourinho gave him at Chelsea but he clearly wants to step out of his shadow. As this Brendan Rodgers quote shows…

“I have learnt a lot from Jose. He is a great man and we remain close, but we are two different people.”

Now this love-in has worked for both coaches so far this term. But now they head into the final straight neck and neck in the title race. Somethings got to give! On the 27th of April, both sides will face off at Anfield knowing that a win for either of them could see them champions of England. Although Manuel Pellegrini’s Man City might have something to say about that.

Jose has been there and seen it all before. For Rodgers and his Liverpool side it’s a new and exciting experience.

Now I said Jose has been here before, but that isn’t quite the case. Because usually he’s up against a rival that he can rile and wind up. So far this season he seems reluctant to try and do that with his former apprentice Rodgers.

He may respect Brendan and like him too much to put the boot in or maybe he believes that Brendan Rodgers knows all his tricks and they won’t work on him.

Or perhaps Jose will wait for the build up to the match to really start and then he may comment on Liverpool’s bottle, experience and give them the overwhelming favourites tag. He could go for the soft digs to the ribs rather than the usual kick to the balls approach that seems to work against Wenger, Benitez and Pellegrini.

People will point to Jose’s relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson and say that the respect between them is similar to that of Jose and Brendan. True, up to a point, but never forget that Jose still liked to put one over on the old master. He will be conscience that Rodgers will be seen as the young pup biting at his own heels. Can he really let the younger man get the early advantage over him?

Don’t worry Chelsea fans, Jose will have plenty of other targets that he will use to inspire his team for the Liverpool clash. The fixture falls in between both legs of the Champions League semi-final ties and any controversy in that first leg will be used to spur his men on. He will no doubt question the media and claim they hate Chelsea and that everyone wants to see Liverpool as the league champions and lookout for digs at the referee. These are all tried and trusted methods that Mourinho uses to build an ‘us against them’ attitude in the dressing room. It rallies the troops and gets them hungry for success and to prove everyone wrong.

I can’t believe he won’t try and provoke Rodgers in some way. As I said he will probably question the Liverpool side’s mentality and heap the pressure on them. I also think he will insinuate in someway that he has taught Brendan Rodgers everything he knows and that he knows everything in the Rodgers tactical notebook.

Would Rodgers retaliate? I doubt it. He will laugh Jose’s comments off, be humble and say that all the pressure is on Chelsea. He could also use any potential Mourinho comments to fire up his own team and get them to prove Jose wrong and do it for the fans!

For once, the seasons big title decider may just be left to the pitch and won’t be started in the press conferences beforehand.

One thing is for sure. If the winner of this match does end up winning the league then they will forever have one up on the other. Should it be Rodgers then expect a very different Jose next season, if it’s Mourinho then I think Brendan will wonder if he can ever conquer the league and outmanoeuvre his former teacher.

For me, I’d choose a Liverpool win or a draw at this moment in time. I think Rodgers has shown already that he can unite his team and get them to deliver on the big days especially at Anfield. I also admire the way he uses the Liverpool fans to really create the best possible atmosphere at Anfield. His own players seem to thrive playing at home while opposing players seem to falter under the huge noise. But if anyone can mastermind a surprise away victory at Anfield it has to be Jose. So its not all cut and dried yet!

Can Villa Afford To Give Lambert Another Summer?

Paul-Lambert

Paul Lambert is about to complete his second season in charge at Aston Villa. The fans at Villa Park seem to be turning on the Scottish manager and a section of them are now asking for a new man to be brought in and takeover.

The Birmingham based club are four points away from the relegation zone. They have a game in hand over Fulham and have a better run-in than Norwich, so you’d think that one more win would probably be enough to ease relegation fears. But I doubt Lambert can really call the season a success.

Yes, should they finish 14th (their current position), then Lambert’s men will have improved on last seasons 15th position. Under Alex McLeish, Lambert’s predecessor, Villa finished 16th, so Paul will argue that under his tenure Villa have continually improved. I would say that might be true in terms of league positions but only slightly and the fans crave more!

The former Champions League winner will also point to Villa’s injury record this term. But people will answer back that a lot of those injuries were from the training ground and that all teams suffer from bad luck with injuries.

The consistency in Villa’s results are confusing to say the least and very frustrating too. Wins against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City were rewarded with glowing praise as was their pressing style they adopted in a 2-2 draw at Anfield. But look at some of their losses in 2014… Crystal Palace (1-0), Fulham (2-1), Stoke (4-1), Newcastle (1-0) and West Ham (2-0), those are games in which they should pick up points in. Plus three of those defeats were at Villa Park!

The home record will be a huge cause of concern for the Villa board as that usually dictates season ticket sales for the next campaign. Winning only five times on your own ground isn’t great when you charge between £350-£600 for the privilege.

Many point the finger at Randy Lerner and say that the American owner no longer spends enough on the side and that’s the reason why Aston Villa are now in the mediocre position they now find themselves in.

But last season, only six sides had a bigger wage budget than Villa (Man City, Chelsea, Man Utd, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs). Yet Villa still finished 15th. This term Newcastle and Stoke both spent less than Villa, yet are doing better in the league.

Crystal Palace and Hull are totally transformed sides since promotion, yet have looked far more equipped for life in the Premier League compared to mainstays Villa.

Lerner wants Aston Villa to be a self sufficient club and its hard to argue with that policy especially when you look at Everton and how they’ve done in the past five years.

Yes Lambert has had some successes in the transfer market in particular Christian Benteke. The re-signing of Brad Guzan was astute and the experience of Ron Vlaar was needed to shore up the inexperienced defence.

The other signings (mainly bargain deals) have been inconsistent, not ready for the Premier League or suffered from injuries.

Lambert inherited a rich squad of players that were certainly under performing. Instead of trying to reinvent or rejuvenate the set-up Paul came in and made Alan Hutton, Darren Bent, Stephen Ireland, Charles N’Zogbia, Stephen Warnock, Shay Given and Barry Bannan outcasts at the club. Hardly playing them and making them train with the reserves and youth sides. I hate this way of thinking. Can a player really change a managers mind if he isn’t training with the first team? I doubt it in this case.

Stephen Ireland has since left and done well at Stoke. Alan Hutton continued to star for Scotland and had a successful loan spell in La Liga last season. Barry Bannan has also had a few eye catching displays at Palace. Yet Lambert never gave them a proper chance with a side that were underachieving.

Now don’t get me wrong, Lambert should be allowed to select whomever he likes but surely he could have done it and still showed these players some respect. Why have them training away from the first team? Could Lambert’s new, unseasoned signings not learn from these experienced pros?

I think Lambert is now a sitting duck. His methods aren’t working. Villa may have improved but these slight improvements haven’t been enough, especially when they are eclipsed by promoted sides or by sides that paid less on their new recruits.

Villa’s style of play isn’t much better than that of the turgid era McLeish brought under his spell in charge. Paul Lambert doesn’t radiate confidence and he doesn’t seem to have the managerial nous to change and turn things around at Villa Park. The fans are looking at the current boss and see another dire summer ahead if he remains in charge.

The supporters also look at what has happened at Liverpool, Southampton and Everton. They see the philosophies that Brendan Rodgers, Mauricio Pochettino and Roberto Martinez brought to those sides and wonder what could have been.

Is there anyone out there for Lerner to select next and that can gain instant results?

Neil Lennon – The Celtic manager might not fancy replacing old teammate Lambert. The Northern Irishman will want to test himself in the EPL at some stage but may want a bigger budget than the one Lerner will offer.

Michael Laudrup – Had success at Swansea and could bring exciting football back to Villa Park. The fact he fails to keep momentum going at previous clubs may warn off potential suitors.

Malky Mackay – Did well at Cardiff and was very unfortunate to get the sack there but I doubt Villa fans would be too enthusiastic with seeing another Scot in charge after the Lambert and McLeish tenures.

Uwe Rosler – Has done extremely well at Wigan but will Aston Villa take a chance on a boss that hasn’t managed at the highest level? Could be the next Rodgers/Martinez but that’s never guaranteed.

Experienced pros like Harry Redknapp and Tony Pulis could turn things around given a chance and a decent wage/transfer budget. That said the Villa faithful would need to be convinced and sooner rather than later.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate to see anyone lose their job. But Lambert’s current regime just doesn’t look great for Villa. The once mighty club look lost and very ordinary. The club need a new boss to come in and capture the supporters and owners imagination.

I believe then and only then, will we see Aston Villa back in the Premier League’s top ten.

Pound For Pound Sterling Was Liverpool’s Finest

Raheem_Sterling_

In an emotional weekend Liverpool produced a wonderful performance, it was a worthy dedication from the club as they honoured the fallen 96 of Hillsborough.

Steven Gerrard was an inspirational leader, whose set-pieces continuously caused Manchester City problems. Match winner Philippe Coutinho also had a terrific game. Luis Suarez was, as ever, a pest that was a huge threat and Martin Skrtel was a rock at the back!

But for me Liverpool’s shining light in this game, billed as a title decider, was youngster Raheem Sterling.

The 19 year old forward was an absolute star today and his season keeps getting better and better. His ability to continually find space against a very experienced Manchester City side was great to watch, especially in the first half.

Sterling’s pace would  cause fear in both Martin Demichelis and Vincent Kompany. His runs were dynamic and were expertly picked out by messrs Gerrard, Coutinho and in particular Suarez.

It was Luiz Suarez who played a superb pass onto the England internationalist, who’d expertly found space in behind Kompany. The attacker would then twist and turn in the box, sending Kompany and Joe Hart one way and then the other. He then placed a shot home into an empty net. The composure shown by Sterling, inside seven minutes in such a huge game, was phenomenal and he showed that he has matured a lot so far in his short career.

The young man might be a bit of a delinquent off the pitch but on the park he is learning from the stars around him and seems to be growing in confidence each and every week.

A lot of credit has to be given to Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers. The boss spotted Sterling’s talents immediately. The Northern Irishman showed faith in the forward and threw him in at the deep end. Sterling reacted almost perfectly and he has become a very influential member of the squad.

His enthusiastic endeavour today settled a lot of nerves early on. He thrived in the emotionally charged atmosphere and was a credit to his football club.

Hopefully Raheem Sterling can keep on improving. Fingers crossed he can also stay out of trouble when he is away from Anfield.

Comparisons with John Barnes might be a bit strong at the moment but like Barnes, Sterling has proven he is very capable of lifting a Liverpool side and staring on the big stage.

Today Liverpool showed that they are ready to go on and lift this league title, that may not please everyone in England. But every English fan should be gushing about Raheem Stirling’s performance and demand that he is in Roy Hodgson’s squad for Brazil in the summer!

Joint Player Of The Month Award? Pass The Sick Bucket!

player-of-month

So for the month of March it was decided we should have joint winners of the ‘Player of the Month’ award in the English Premier League’. Liverpool duo Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez were both deemed worthy of the prize.

What old tosh!

Why can’t we just have one winner and be done with it.

Don’t get me wrong both had great months but why dilute any respect for the award by giving it to two players.

If you are going by stats then Suarez probably just edges it. They both grabbed six important strikes each but the Uruguayan has also created two assists and had three man of the match awards. While England captain Gerrard had no assists and just one man of the match award. That would be a simple way of doing it if you ask me.

Or look at the fact that Suarez won the award in December, so maybe its fitting to give it to Gerrard who hasn’t won one this term (Although he has won it a record six times now). Plus let’s face it Suarez will no doubt become this years player of the year in England.

While we are at it why not just give it to three players, Martin Skrtel had a terrific March too!

It just makes no sense in my opinion to have more than one winner for the award. We have now had joint winners of this accolade SIX times! Please lets stop this farce or just give it a new name ‘players of the month’.

Its getting a bit like these precious schools who decide everyone is a winner on sports-day as many don’t want us to be too competitive anymore. Competition is a good thing as is awarding a footballer for being the best in their field for one full month or a whole season.

For me, its clear that Suarez should have won this award by himself. But the committee that decides on these things have been a bit nostalgic and wanted to reward a rejuvenated Steven Gerrard who will lead England in Brazil this summer. But to be honest they then should have just gone the full hog and given Gerrard the title and be done with it.

I doubt Suarez or Gerrard will have lost any sleep had the other won the award by themselves.

Lets just hope that this can be the end of sharing this award. What happens does Stevie have it one week and its in the Suarez household the next? Crazy!

Can Chelsea Get Back Into Title Top Spot?

Stamford_Bridge_Chelsea

Everyone is waiting for Sunday afternoon with bated breath. Many are thinking that the game between Liverpool and Manchester City will be this terms title decider.

But can Chelsea regain top spot this season?

It looks tough for the ‘Blues’ but a draw at Anfield between their two championship challenging rivals could see Jose Mourinho’s men back in with a chance.

They would then go into the match against Swansea knowing that they could go level on points with Liverpool at the top of the table. They would then face Liverpool away at the end of the month, with a win that could probably end Liverpool’s title ambitions as long as Chelsea or Man City have no more slip ups themselves.

A draw with the ‘Reds’ at Anfield would still see Man City move closer to both of their adversaries and with two games in hand over both of them, thus having their own destiny in their own hands. So Chelsea and Liverpool would then need City to slip up again in their remaining games to stop the Manchester club from gaining a second league title in three seasons.

Chelsea may prefer for City to lose at Anfield. They would then try and chase Liverpool down and a Chelsea win over Liverpool on the 27th of April would make the London side favourites once again and the ones to catch. But should Liverpool cut down City’s challenge at Anfield they will be super confident that they could do the same against Chelsea!

A Man City win would be a bit of a nightmare scenario. Manuel Pellegrini’s side have a pretty easy run-in with only Everton remaining in City’s fixture list that are a top ten side. People might say ‘well the teams battling relegation could be dangerous opponents’. Well four of those sides are going to the Etihad and need to pick up some points. Only Chelsea have done that in the league this campaign. So with their run-in and after a confidence boosting win at at Anfield, you’d feel City would be rampant and see out the season as champions.

Whatever happens on Sunday, expect Jose to pile the pressure on both of his opposite numbers. Unlike his rival managers, Mourinho has a track record of winning major leagues. He will use every trick in his big book to try and overturn any deficits.

One of Chelsea’s major problems could be their own success. The club are the only English side left in Europe, with the ‘Blues’ in this seasons Champions League semi-finals. That means that John Terry and co will have at least two more major ties left, those games along with a possible final could prove to be a huge distraction. A nice distraction but a distraction nevertheless.

Injuries could play a huge part in where the title goes too. When Eden Hazard limped off against PSG mid-week there are supporters of Liverpool and City that would have looked on with a smile. That’s because the Belgian has become the talisman at Stamford Bridge. So if he misses a few league fixtures that could benefit the rest. With that said, Chelsea still managed to beat PSG without Hazard on the pitch. They have Oscar, Andre Schurrle, Willan and Mohammed Salah all ready to raise their games and try and make up for the loss of Hazard.

The simple fact is this. Sunday’s match between Liverpool and City isn’t a title decider, but it could help settle the dust down leading into the final turn. Man City for me have to be favourites for the title but with Jose at Chelsea anything is possible.

It has been a fascinating battle for the top spot in English football and I bet we have a least one more twist to come!

Why Griffiths Time Should Be Up At Celtic

Celtic park

In 1888 Celtic were formed, it was done so to help out those in poverty, to stand against prejudice and the club was all for equality.

Fast forward to the present day and Celtic are now finding themselves in a bit of a dilemma. The Parkhead side brought in Wolves striker Leigh Griffiths for £800k, back in January. The Scottish international came in with a lot of baggage. He has been in trouble with the police and seemed to be a bit of a social nuisance.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon thought he could make Griffiths change his ways. The player himself declared he was now a reformed character upon signing for the ‘Hoops’. He made an instant impact on the pitch, scoring five times in ten outings.

But then came a Youtube video that showed Griffiths drinking in a pub with Hibs fans on the day of the Edinburgh derby. The Hibees childhood supporter and former player would be seen coaxed into singing a song. The footballer decided to sing about Hearts and their current financial mess. The episode was in bad taste and showed the world that Griffiths still had to a lot of growing up to do.

Celtic immediately disciplined the striker, handed him a final warning and offered Hearts an apology. The act was stupid but it was easily dealt with by his employers.

The SFA decided that they too wanted to investigate the incident. Celtic took exception to this and said that they had dealt with the issue internally and that should be an end of it.

But unfortunately for Celtic the matter wasn’t finished. In this past weeks Sunday’s tabloids a new video appeared and the footage would cause a huge stir in the Glasgow clubs boardroom and with their supporters. The new video showed the forward singing a song about Rudi Skacel, calling the Czech a ‘refugee’ in a derogatory (racist) way.

Celtic are now left red-faced and ultimately now need to decide if the player has a future at the club. After all they had just written a stern statement to the SFA saying that matter had been dealt with properly. Not knowing the whole truth of Leigh’s escapades from his day in Scotland’s capital.

Neil Lennon, who has himself been victim of racism and sectarian abuse, has previously came out and said that Celtic have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to racism and prejudice.

The Griffiths sing-song also irks as it goes against the foundations of both Celtic and Hibs, each formed by Irish immigrants. If Skacel is classed as a refugee then surely the same can be said of these honourable men who founded these clubs in Scotland late in the 19th century.

Celtic are also a cosmopolitan club with a worldwide fan base, who employ a various amount of foreigners. The term and how it was used by Griffiths spits in the face of all Celtic do to show that the are a club of equality and tolerance.

I am sure Griffiths truly regrets his actions, mainly because he was caught and his job is now under threat. He must have lied to his employers, who would have asked him if there was anything else they needed to know. Ultimately he has committed an act that can only be seen as gross misconduct.

At 23 years of age, surely the international striker is old enough to know that he can’t sing-a-long with fans when they sing certain songs. He must notice by now that he should stay away from Edinburgh, especially on derby days. Plus a wee tip Leigh, you are a professional footballer getting paid a great deal of money every week. With this high wage you should probably stay away from bars and lookout for mobile phones that can film you!

If any member of the Celtic staff, say a Celtic club shop employee, were caught singing racist songs. Do we honestly think that Celtic would retain that member of staffs services? No they would be sacked after a quick investigation. Especially after a previous warning!

Old Firm fans are often criticised for all these kinds of disgraceful antics. The police are now out in force handing out banning orders left, right and centre. So we can’t have one law for us and another for players. They have to act responsibly and be held fully accountable for their actions.

Celtic football club need to be strong and show Leigh Griffiths the door (probably sue him for breaching his contract). He has let the club down, quite spectacularly even by his own shambolic standards.  The club need to show that they are true to their word and won’t put up with such ignorant intolerance. They have to show the fans and the rest of the footballing world that they have morals and believe in the ideals that helped create the club.

They also need to do it as quickly as possible. It can’t be swept under the carpet and too much of a delay will be see Celtic seem unsure in what they truly stand for.

Backing Ally McCoist

McCoist

It must be a bit tough being Ally McCoist this week. It seems like everyone and their auntie wants the Rangers boss out of his job. He is quickly turning into Scotland’s version of Arsene Wenger.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a person who thinks for himself and is quite capable of arguing my point. So for readers that know me, they won’t be too surprised to see me come out in support of the beleaguered Rangers gaffer.

Now I should state that McCoist is my all-time footballing hero. So I could very well be biased here. But I don’t shirk in telling you that. Others that have commented against him will probably be slightly biased too and have their own agendas.

My main issues for supporting Ally are quite simple.

People are comparing his reign to that of men like Graeme Souness, Walter Smith, Dick Advocaat, Scot Symon and Bill Struth. This is utterly ridiculous. Eras change and not one of those former bosses had anywhere near the same problems to deal with as McCoist does now (both on and off the park).

McCoist’s league record since he took charge at Ibrox has actually been not bad. They finished second in the SPL after suffering administration back in 2012.

They were then sent to the third division after liquidation and won that league in a canter. This term they have already wrapped up the SPFL League One title, without losing a game. In fact so far in 42 competitive matches this campaign, the ‘Gers’ have only lost two games.

Now those games were ultimately big games in the minds of the fans, some see it as very embarrassing for the Ibrox outfit.

But why on earth do Rangers fans expect to win every single match and competition? I have never understood football fans who expect to win everything. They are spoiled and have been for so long that they can’t see that the world doesn’t revolve around them or their team. Show a bit of humility and congratulate Raith Rovers on a fine triumph (a team that play in a better standard of league).

People will say ‘Oh but Rangers have the second biggest wage budget!’. Very true but going on that logic, Celtic should be handed the treble every single summer as they currently have the highest wage bill. Football (thankfully) doesn’t work like that!

Th players haven’t played well enough and McCoist can’t motivate them! Again very true but I have spoken to a few ex-pros and they have said to me that its not easy to fire yourself up to play inferior opponents. It is all in the mind, I don’t think there is much you can do to change that mindset within players who are used to playing in the country’s top league. If the players don’t improve with each promotion then that will be more of an issue.

Also many a fan and pundit seems to be saying this isn’t the standard of play we are used to at Ibrox. Well no of course it isn’t. You aren’t watching players like Brian Laudrup, Paul Gascoigne, Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, Michael Mols, Dado Prso or the like. The club can’t afford those types of players anymore and even if they could they wouldn’t turn up for games in Scotland’s third tier.

Complaints have been made that the football on show at Ibrox has been terrible. Listen I watched Rangers constantly during the 9 in a row days, during the Advocaat revolution, the McLeish years, PLG’s dire tenure and Smith’s second coming. During all those eras Rangers fans witness some dreadful games of football. If you believe differently then you are deluded.

Also be careful what you wish for.

Who out there do you want to see as the next Rangers manager? Will anyone that is decent enough in the eyes of the fans want to work at Murray Park at this stage with boardroom turmoil and such happening at the moment? Can the club afford a good replacement if one was found? Can that replacement build a better team and cut costs at the same time? If Rangers were to suffer administration number two would a new manager stick around?

Remember when Alex McLeish left his post as Rangers manager? How Paul Le Guen was hailed as a saviour? How long did he last? His sides played nice football, unfortunately they couldn’t win enough games and he lost the fans as well as the dressing room. He was gone in six months!

Sometimes football supporters have to take in the bigger picture and stop demanding everything yesterday.

McCoist stood by Rangers and the clubs faithful fans. Is it not the time to repay that showing of support? When the chips were down Ally McCoist stood up to messrs Whyte and Green, when it came to a vote on boardroom backing he gave his vote back to the fans, he has taken pay cuts, he has been at the end of abuse from away fans, opposition players, the media and even from his own employers and the clubs fans. With all that pressure he has handled himself in the most part with dignity and did all he could to help rebuild Rangers Football Club.

By all means moan at the teams performances and if you want to ask for the managers head then do so. But why don’t you offer the man respect and also come up with legitimate plan B’s.

For me, I would allow the current Rangers manager time to see his job through, get them back into Scotland’s elite and then judge him from there. Should he not get Rangers back to the promised land then I too will say its time for Ally McCoist to walk away from his job.

Lambert Or Carroll? Who Should Be Off To Brazil?

FA_

In just over a months time Roy Hodgson will have to announce his England squad that he’ll take to Brazil for this summers World Cup. The race to get on the plane is starting to hot up, especially in the strikers positions.

Many have already started to second guess the England manager’s squad plans. Obviously, injuries permitting, Wayne Rooney will lead the line. Then it seems almost certain that Roy will take young guns Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck.

Now there is a debate on whether or not Hodgson will take four or five forwards to the tournament.

For me in this day and age you don’t need as many as five strikers for a months international competition. Certain teams, like world champions Spain, might only take three frontmen!

After watching Jay Rodriguez writhe around the Etihad turf in excruciating pain, the ‘Saints’ man will not be fit for June. The MLS move for Jermain Defoe has seen him fall off the radar somewhat as he no longer features in the English press and their columns.

So in my opinion the last spot is going to go to either Southampton’s Rickie Lambert or West Ham United’s Andy Carroll.

RickieLambert

Many eyebrows were raised when Rickie Lambert was selected in the squad to face Scotland back in August. He was seen as a bit of a journeyman forward that had spent most of his career in the English lower leagues.

But he impressed in his first season in England’s top flight scoring 15 league goals. He would also impress in that international debut against the Scots, where he grabbed the winner with a bulleted header (his first touch in international football). He followed that with a goal against Moldova in the World Cup Qualifier in Wembley. All this done at the age of 31!

The striker is a strong, solid forward that isn’t scared to put it about a bit. The target-man offers great hold up play and he can also link up well with those around him.

This season has seen the ‘Saints’ striker gain 11 league strikes. He is also famed for his excellent penalty record and that could give him the nod for the World Cup as England always seem to fall apart at shoot-outs.

AndyCarroll

West Ham’s Andy Carroll has missed a huge chunk of the season due to a persistent heel injury.

But the lanky strongman has returned in 2014 and has quite literally muscled his way back into Roy Hodgson’s World Cup plans. The 6ft plus striker is almost unplayable when he’s at the top of his game. He pummels centre-backs into submission much like Duncan Ferguson used to do in his era.

The forward isn’t as prolific as you’d like but his mere presence in the box means that those around him pick up the pieces due to mass confusion the hitman creates in opposition defences. In his nine EPL appearances this calendar year, Carroll has scored twice and also had a hand in creating four assists for others in his team. West Ham have also improved dramatically in form since Andy came back into the team.

For England the Gateshead lad has grabbed two goals in nine caps.

The 25 year old also impressed when Roy took him to the Euros in 2012.

Now for me I would usually always go for the player that has played all season. So Lambert would usually get the plane ticket. He also hasn’t put a foot wrong with the national team and has that fantastic record from spot kicks.

But I think Andy Carroll might just edge it. His brute strength and raw ability is so hard to play against and even top international defenders struggle to cope with him. He just has a bit more about him in my opinion. That said he has to play on for the rest of the season and keep playing extremely well.

Roy will be happy that he has this dilemma and it will be interesting to see who he decides is the best player for his squad.

Shirt Prices Aren’t A Joke! They Actually Make Sense

Football-kits

A lot has been made of the price of England’s new World Cup Strip. The media having been shouting about this new top costing fans £90 to look like their heroes. It has received so much coverage that UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron has came out condemning Nike’s pricing of the strip.

But the thing is there is a £60 ‘stadium’ strip available too. The main difference between the two? Well the more expensive one has more technology in it, that allows you to keep cool and is tailor fit (Tight).

So really you have a choice on what top you get. Do you really need the £90 athlete England match shirt? Well looking at a lot of fans in the stadiums up and down the country and I can’t say that ‘athlete’ often springs to mind.

If you do play a lot of football then you probably play for a team, therefore already have a team kit. If five or seven-a-side is more your thing then you probably don’t need the super-duper match shirt if I am being honest.

I have been buying or had football kits bought for me for at least twenty years now. People, mainly parents, have often complained about prices.

On the whole, if you look at it as one single clothing purchase, you can see their point. Between £40-£60 for a replica top does seem very steep. But if I am being honest I have got my moneys worth out of most of my football strips. The ones I haven’t were down to me getting bigger or not liking the design anymore.

When I was in my teens and in my early twenties to mid-twenties I would play football for a least two days a week and sometimes up to fives games a week.

At that time I had quite a few kits.

Nike_Adidas_Puma

So if you wear a top a lot during a year or so, then it makes sense. It isn’t any different than buying a designer pair of jeans or a pair of decent trainers.

There are also various tips for those of you over a certain age (i.e you’re a fully grown adult). Think when buying a new strip. Buy when then shops or online stores are having a sale. That’s usually just after Christmas but in recent years sites have been starting sales early in December or even November. Also get kits you really like and will still wear in a few years time. I usually get foreign strips, people don’t know how long you’ve had the top for and probably don’t care. I still wear a Boca Juniors shirt I got four or five years ago. I will now get one new shirt a year, usually as a present and get it during a sale.

Plus if you wear strips because you play football every week or so, then don’t go buying the full kit. Get a few pairs of socks and plain shorts, usually in white or black. They will be cheaper for you and will go with most strips.

If you like to wear your own clubs top, then why not get a really cool retro top that you loved as a kid or that brings back great times.

Obviously if you have money and like new strips then keep buying them. There should be no stigma attached with purchasing football tops.

In 1998 I probably got the most new strips I have had in one year. How did I pay for them? Well Birthday gifts, Christmas presents and I also had a part time job during the summer. So that meant I got a Lazio, the Jamaican, Perugia, Brazil, Scotland, Inter Milan and a Rangers kit.

Now at £42, I do think that is a bit much for kids strips. The fact that these children grow out of their tops at a fast rate should be remembered by the manufacturers.

I am also a fan of having a new home shirt brought out every two years and not every season. I would keep a new away top for every year just to give people a different choice. I think third tops don’t really need to change to often.

But I don’t agree with the premise that pressure from kids makes it difficult for the parents these days. As a parent you are the one that lays down the law. As a child I was given pocket money (£2 a week) and had budgets for Christmas and birthdays. I could then pick what I wanted and would get the odd surprise. But as I knew my budgets I never complained if I didn’t get anything extra. We should be teaching our kids about money from a young age.

Plus we also have to remember that economy and inflation also come into it when comparing prices. Everything seems to cost more now than it did a few years ago. For example in 1998 if a strip cost you £40 by inflation in todays money that would be £59.66.

By all means complain, as a consumer that is your right. But don’t be mislead by the press or by nostalgia that sometimes clouds your judgement. Things haven’t changed that much, plus be creative and patient and get yourself a good deal.

Also just be thankful we don’t live in Paris and support PSG as new strips in France can cost €85!

Everton Just Keep Getting Better And Better!

Everton

As Everton thrashed Arsenal 3-0 at Goodison, you couldn’t help but think that they could now have the momentum to propel the ‘Toffees’ into the English Premier League’s ‘Top Four’. Thus potentially securing the Merseyside side a Champions League place.

Having witnessed some of Everton’s performances this season you can’t help but be impressed with the way boss Roberto Martinez has his side playing their football.

They are very exciting to watch.

Going forward they run directly at opponents, dazzle with quick passing and create a vast amount of chances. At the back they are composed, balanced and hardworking. The whole team chase down opposite numbers and press from the off. This in your face style causes mistakes and they capitalise on these mistakes by cutting open opposition teams.

The blue side of Liverpool also hold on to the ball well and keep the game flowing.

This season hasn’t just been down to one or two players or even just a handful of stars. The whole squad has improved and that is down to, in no small measure, the players reacting well to Martinez’s methods.

Just look at Steven Naismith. The Scottish forward could certainly be seen as a squad player but he’s been great of late. He has waited for the right time to impress and he has done just that. His club manager showed belief in him and he has repaid the Spaniard with two man of the match performances in the past two fixtures.

After an injury to captain Phil Jagielka, John Stones is another who has came in and done his team proud. The 19 year old hasn’t looked out of place helping secure the side three clean-sheets in his last six league fixtures.

The pool of players has a wonderful compliment of exciting youthful talent and fantastic wily old pros.

The spine of the team is solid.

Tim Howard is one of the Premier League’s finest goalkeepers. The American goalie is consistent and reliable. A superb shot-stopper who gives those in front of him some extra confidence.

At the back when fit it is usually Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka as the defensive pairing. The duo is one of the best partnerships in the league and are solid. Plus they still have a bit of pace about them too.

Full-backs Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines have been magnificent to watch this term. They are always willing to run forward and then back again down the touchlines. They are relentless in their work-rate. They also provide chances for others as well as scoring ten goals between themselves.

Protecting the defence has been a job given to new boys (loanee) Gareth Barry and James McCarthy. They have both came in and been superb. They are very tidy players, who are able  annoy opponents and win the ball back for their club. The two will then seek out the more creative players around them and give them the possession. They’re very dependable and have added a new steeliness to the Goodison Park outfit.

The creative sparks such as Ross Barkley, Kevin Mirallas and Gerard Deulofeu are always worth watching. They have that ability to get you onto the edge of your seat and thinking what will they do next? The fact that both Barkley and Deulofeu are still only twenty beggars belief. Two potential superstars.

Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar are both mainstays of the squad and are players that will give their all for the jersey!

Up top, the main man has been Romelu Lukaku. The on-loan Chelsea frontman has bagged 13 EPL goals in 23 starts. The powerful forward has really helped the ‘Toffees’ with important goals against Arsenal and a brace against derby rivals Liverpool. If Everton can secure fourth spot, they should do everything in their power to keep the big Belgian in Merseyside.

Everton have also had a quite a few injuries this campaign with Bryan Oviedo, Phil Jagielka, Steven Pienaar, Darron Gibson, Arouna Kone and Lacina Kone all currently sitting on the treatment tables. But you’d never have guessed it with the squad defining their season with a great record of wins at a crucial time of the season.

When David Moyes departed Goodison for Old Trafford, some interested observers wondered if that was an end to Everton and their ability to challenge for European places. But Roberto Martinez has stepped in and seems to have taken the club to the next level. The team believe in the Spanish gaffer and have all flourished under his guardianship. They like the free flowing tactics and the ideas he brings to the training ground. The forward thinking coach has instilled his philosophies and the club have flourished because of it.

Now the chance to finish fourth is in Everton’s own hands. But to fulfil that destiny they have to win their game in hand and leapfrog Arsenal. They also have to get positive results in their home fixtures against both Manchester clubs.

So as I say its far from certain that Everton will see out the season as England’s fourth best side but one thing can’t be doubted and that is, along with city competitors  Liverpool, Everton have been one of the countries most deserving and entertaining sides to watch this season!